“I’m being harassed at work! Do I have a case?” This is another question I hear a lot from potential clients, much like “Can I sue for wrongful termination?” More often than not, the “harassment” is by a boss who is just being a jerk, and I have to tell the potential client that there is no law against being a jerk.
The truth is that not all workplace harassment is unlawful. It is undoubtedly very hard on employees and, therefore, bad for business, but harassment alone does not make a case against an employer. That is because in order for workplace harassment to be unlawful, it typically must be based on a protected characteristic of the victim, such as that person’s race, religion, or disability.
Sexual harassment is a specific form of unlawful harassment, and with the recent allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Sen. Al Franken and others, it is again on many people’s minds. So, what is sexual harassment? Definitions vary, but under federal law, it is defined as:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Similarly, Minnesota law defines sexual harassment as follows:
“Sexual harassment” includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature when:
(1) submission to that conduct or communication is made a term or condition, either explicitly or implicitly, of obtaining employment …;
(2) submission to or rejection of that conduct or communication by an individual is used as a factor in decisions affecting that individual’s employment …; or
(3) that conduct or communication has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s employment …, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment … environment.
Common examples of sexual harassment include:
- Unwelcome sexual flirtations, propositions, and invitations to social events;
- Offensive physical contact or physical closeness;
- Using words of a sexual nature describing body parts or sexual acts;
- Telling “suggestive” jokes or stories, and conversations about sexual exploits or sexual desires;
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons;
- Suggesting that an employee’s job security, job assignment, conditions of employment, or opportunities for advancement depend in any way on the granting of sexual favor or relations.
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, please contact me to discuss your rights.
Tom Jacobson, Employment Law Attorney at Swenson Lervick
The information in this article is for general information purposes only and is not to be considered or used as legal advice.
© 2017 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA